Fort St. John of the Bayou

Fort St. John of the Bayou or Fort San Juan del Bayou, later shortened to Fort St. John, was established in 1701 by the French as the first defensive position outside the city. It was located at the base of Bayou St. John where it opened to Lake Pontchartrain. The Spanish gained control of New Orleans in 1763 and rebuilt the old wooden French fort out of their customary masonry.

Today when you tour the remains you can see bits and pieces, remnants of the glory from yester years. You won’t fully get a picture of all Fort St. John’s splendor unless you look up older photos. The remains serve as an important historical reminder for the city of New Orleans, and how significant the fort and waterways were to the protection of the city from a direct attack by way of Lake Pontchartrain.

The French regained control of New Orleans in 1801 but then later sold it to the Americans in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase. The fort was occupied by Americans starting in 1803 and was garrisoned in preparation for the British attack but never saw wartime action. General Jackson stationed some of his best gunners there. When it was clear, the enemy would not attack through Lake Pontchartrain, they were recalled for the Battle of New Orleans.

Around 1818 Fort Pike was constructed and designed to guard the Rigolets Pass. It would assume the primary role for coastal defense for Lake Pontchartrain. Fort St. John was decommissioned and sold in 1823. It was later constructed into a hotel, then subsequently an amusement park and tourist destination that lasted through the 1920’s.

It has now faded into the pages of history books but leaves a legacy behind. It leaves a few legends too. All important historical sites have haunts and ghost stories that paint a picture, Fort St. John is no different. Should you get the chance to pass by ask about a soldier named Sancho Pablo.

Southern Louisiana Christmas Bonfires

One of Southern Louisiana’s favorite holiday traditions is the lighting of the bonfires along the Mississippi River. It is believed to be a tradition brought to our state by nineteenth century French immigrants. The lighting of bonfires on certain holidays was a common custom in France and Germany and other parts of Europe.  While the tradition in Europe has mostly disappeared, it has grown here in Louisiana.  The French Acadians have kept up the tradition of Chrismas Eve bonfires and the media started spreading the word in the 1970s, expanding interest in this unique spectacle. Now, people from New Orleans, locals and tourists alike, will annually drive up the River Road or take a cruise up the Mississippi River to see the giant teepee-shaped log pyres set aflame, lining the River, lighting the way for Papa Noel. Usually there is drinking involved, in typical festival fashion. Eating is usually reserved for the later festivities. The tradition more or less remains a family affair, where a group of people from each community get together and build the structure for their particular neighborhood. In 1987, a set of regulations was imposed on the size and locations of the fires, and a burning permit was even required and enforced. It’s possible that the restrictions actually encouraged increasing participation and popularity in this special historic holiday event.

Laura: A Creole Plantation

Laura Plantation is distinguished as a Creole Plantation. You may have seen the word Creole in front of a menu item in a New Orleans' restaurant, but the word Creole is used to describe more than just food! Creole is a people, culture, and lifestyle that flourished in Louisiana in its infancy. It is characterized by a blending of European (mostly French and Spanish), African, and Native American ethnicities, food, architecture, traditions, and family values. Creoles spoke French and were Catholic. Before Louisiana became part of the 1803, the non-Anglo-Saxon people who made up much of the population in the South became what we know today as Creoles. The Creole population functioned in an elitist society, where class, not race, was the determining factor in one's status and welfare. Societies (even rural ones) followed a strict social conduct code, one where tradition and family were paramount, women were allowed to own and run businesses, and where human bondage was an accepted reality to produce wealth.  Creole plantation owner Laura Locoul Gore (1861-1963) documented first hand much of what we know about Creole lifestyles and slavery in her memoirs, which are now retold daily to visitors at Laura Plantation.  

This Weekend We Celebrate Louis

This weekend is Satchmo Summerfest, an annual festival that honors New Orleans’ own jazz legend and one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, Louis Armstrong. While Louis is best known for introducing the world to his improvisational solo jazz style, he had many notable accomplishments and adventures throughout his life. Among them…

– Armstrong famously criticized the President Eisenhower over segregation. At the time, when racial tensions were high, his outburst was viewed as a controversial, even tabboo subject. In retrospect, Armstrong is admired for his brave words and candid political stance.

– He toured Africa as musical ambassador for the US State Department during the height of the Cold War, and later joked that he (his music) stopped a civil war!

– At the age of 62, he surpassed The Beatles at the top of the pop charts!

Satchmo was quite the remarkable man! Wonder where the name Satchmo came from? It’s a shortened nickname for satchel mouth.  They say, when Armstrong was growing up in New Orleans, he would dance in the streets for pennies and put the coins in his mouth like a satchel so the bigger kids wouldn’t take his earnings.

Algiers – The Second Oldest Neighborhood in the Crescent City

Algiers was established in 1719, only one year after the world famous French Quarter, yet the historic neighborhood on the other side of the dividing Mississippi River has never been the one to draw in an abundance of tourists.  The River has only reinforced what has always been a severed relationship between the Eastbank and the Westbank and for this reason Algiers is sometimes referred to as the red-headed step-sister of New Orleans.  However, a quick Ferry ride or drive over the Crescent City Connection will bring you to one of the country’s oldest cities and the history of Algiers is worth embracing!  Some points of interest:

– In the 1720s at a spot of land now eroded by the river, stood the barracks where enslaved Africans were prepped before being ferried across the river to the auctions.

– Algiers Point evolved from the plantation of Barthelemy Duverje (built 1812-1816) which served as the Algiers Courthouse from 1866.  It was destroyed by the Algiers fire of 1895 and replaced by the current courthouse in 1896.

– Algiers point boasts some of the same architecture that you will find in the French Quarter, and similarly houses bars and quaint bed and breakfasts. With a fantastic view of the River and half the price of the French Quarter, many regular visitors prefer to stay in Algiers.

Iconic Cypress Trees

The lush growth in a Louisiana swamp is something you really have to experience in order feel its majesty. One of the best things to see in our beautiful wetlands is the indigenous bald cypress tree. The bald cypress tree is actually our official state tree and for good reason! Cypress trees thrive in wet marshy lands and because of this, the wood is resistant to rot and decay, making in an ideal building material for coastal homes in our hot and humid climate. It’s also impervious to insects!  Besides its role in Louisiana architecture, cypress wood is a preferred option for furniture, fences, caskets, boats, and ships. Cypress harvesting began in the late 1800’s, peaking around 1923, and drastically declined in the 1930s. After only a few short decades of harvest, all but a few scattered islands of cypress trees had been cut over. Now, the cypress trees over 200 years old (alive during the Louisiana Purchase!) are protected by the state. You can spot these distinguished bald cypress trees on our airboat and bayou tours!